The love chapter is, of course, First Corinthians 13. It was supposed to be a favorite chapter of our Sunday school class. However, I think we should be wary of it.
What Paul wrote to the Corinthians was the result of what he had heard of them. This was that they were engaged in a “spiritual competition.” This is evidenced both by their division into factions (1:10-12) and by arguments of which spiritual gifts were greater (12:1-11). Paul finishes chapter 12 by showing the value of all the spiritual gifts. As the letter was read in the church I can imagine everybody feeling good about themselves and their gifts at this point. Then the trap closes.
“And now I will show you the most excellent way” (Romans 12:31b, NIV). We might have heard a gasp out of the assembled Corinthians. They thought they were arguing over excellence—how could there be something better. Paul then tells them that love is better than spiritual gifts through providing them a series of examples of love, some of which are beyond most people’s capability and all of which we have difficulty with in our everyday lives.
It is impossible to have divisions and factions and competitions in our churches and still maintain we are being faithful to Paul’s teaching concerning our Christian lives and spirituality. Surprisingly, after telling the Corinthians that love is greater than faith and hope, Paul exhorts them to continue to desire spiritual gifts. The trap for us in the love chapter is that we, in general, do not go on to chapter 14 but are content to see chapter 13 as the high point and end of Paul’s instructions and leave the search for spiritual gifts to others of less orthodox persuasions.